It’s been a smooth transition for Gulliver Prep girls’ swim program despite losing its’ head coach, three top seniors to graduation and state relay champion to another school.
The foundation was set and blueprint already in place before Jeff Poppell was hired as associate head coach at University of Florida; top seniors Niki Urquidi, Kelly Fertel and Namilla Sanchez graduated and freshman two-time state relay champion Andrea Santander transferred to Pine Crest.
With back-to-back FHSAA State 2A Swimming and Diving titles and plenty of depth and talent returning, interim head coach Chris George is approaching the 2016 season with plenty of optimism.
George, mentored by Poppell since he was an 8-year-old age group swimmer, has coached with Poppell at Arkansas and Gulliver Prep the past four seasons during the Raiders’ resurgence in high school swimming.
“Our philosophy is the same and that’s to grow and build on what we have already built the past four years,” George said.
At 31, George is one of the state’s youngest high school coaches.
“I am definitely up for the challenge, I’m excited for it,” George said. “I feel Jeff prepared me pretty well. He definitely passed on that winning culture. We have set ourselves apart from other teams.
“Obviously, Jeff and I are two different people on how we approach things. The program is definitely staying the same in regard to philosophy. It’s something we believe in and was brought up with. We know it works and we are not looking to change that.”
Gulliver Prep returns a solid nucleus off last year’s state champion team. Seniors Brooke Ellis and sophomores Emily Cordovi and Sarah Abril return off the state champion 200-yard medley relay team. Cordovi and Abril were also members of the state champion 200-yard freestyle relay. Cordovi was third in the 100-yard butterfly (55.45) and fourth in the 100-yard backstroke (57.62).
“Our relays are pretty strong,” George said. “We have a lot of girls who are developing and stepping up to the plate more.”
Alicia Mancilla is a top distance freestyler and senior leader Brooke Ellis is one of the best in the individual medley and butterfly. Abril is a top sprint freestyler.
“We are a pretty young team,” George said. “Brooke is our main senior for the girls and the rest are juniors, sophomores and freshmen.”
Gulliver Prep opened its’ season Saturday hosting the Gulliver Prep Relay Invitational. Despite a weather delay, the Raiders dominated the meet. The regular season meets begin this week.
The two-time defending champions know there is a target on their backs. Two years ago Gulliver Prep won its’ first team title and became the first school in Miami-Dade to do so in 42 years. Two years and two state titles later, the Raiders are looking to three-peat.
“We are definitely looking to repeat, we are not going to shy away from that at all,” George said. “That’s our goal on the team and my goal as interim head coach.”
Gulliver Prep is not shying away from competition by scheduling top swim teams including Jacksonville Bolles, the defending 1A state champion.
“We are definitely up for the challenge with all these teams and meets we scheduled,” George said. “It gives us a measure of where we are at as a team and we where we stand going against a storied program like Bolles.
“We’re excited about the season. The kids look good. There’s a lot of great leadership on the team. The kids are young but young leaders and good people. We are setting ourselves up for another great season.”
Ransom Everglades, led by senior and U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier Kyla Valls, will also field a strong team.
TERRA, winner of the GMAC girls’ title, return a solid core of swimmers off last year’s team. Senior Julia Talamo, a three-time state qualifier called “the backbone of the team” returns along with her sophomore sister Julianna Talamo, a distance freestyler, and sophomore backstroker Stephanie Rodriguez.
DADE GIRLS SWIMMING
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Sarah Abril, Gulliver Prep; Nicole Aulicino, Gulliver Prep; Emily Cordovi, Gulliver Prep; Brooke Ellis, Gulliver Prep; Camryn Grussmark, Ransom Everglades; Stephanie Hernandez, Doral Academy; Alicia Mancilla, Gulliver Prep; Cecile Monnier, Coral Reef; Delanie Perez, Goleman; Jessica Rodriguez, Hialeah Gardens; Marcella Ruppert-Gomez, Gulliver Prep; Paloma Sanchez, LaSalle; Stephanie Suarez, Doral Academy; Julia Talamo, TERRA; Julianna Talamo, TERRA; Kyla Valls, Ransom Everglades; Melannie Vargas, Doral Academy.
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 4A: Buchholz (girls), Sarasota Riverview (boys).
Class 3A: Gainesville (girls), Doral Academy Charter (boys).
Class 2A: Gulliver Prep (girls), Plantation American Heritage (boys).
Class 1A: Bolles (girls), Bolles (boys).
Sept. 10, St. Andrew’s Invitational
Sept. 14, Doral Academy at Gulliver Prep
Sept. 16, Gulliver Prep at Bolles
Sept. 17, Bolles Bulldog Invitational
Sept. 17, Shark Invite at University School
Sept.24, St. Andrew’s, Gulliver Prep at Ransom Everglades
Sept. 24, Woodson Invitational at Pine Crest
Sept. 27, Gulliver Prep Make-A-Splash Swim-A-Mile Event
Sept. 30-Oct. 1, FSPA High School Developmental Invitational, Orlando
Oct. 5, Pine Crest at Gulliver Prep
Oct. 7, Ransom Everglades Invitational
Oct. 17-22, District 3A, 4A Meets
Oct. 24-29, District 1A, 2A Meets
Oct. 24-29, Region 3A, 4A Meets
Oct. 31-Nov. 5, Region 1A, 2A Meets
Nov. 4, Class 3A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart
Nov. 5, Class 4A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart
Nov. 11, Class 1A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart
Nov. 12, Class 2A State Meet, Sailfish Splashpark, Stuart